SHORT STORY: The Oakland Jazz Festival

Vickie Williams is an aspiring writer from Monroe, Louisiana who migrated out West from the South as a teenager. Her spirit of adventure is reflected in the following story.


I was twenty years old, had completed my second year in college, and flirted with adventure. It was the early seventies.

Hitch hiking was common. The hippies were anti-war advocating love and peace. The Black Panthers were rising up and had a ten-point program, and I was styling and profiling a big afro.

I was moving and grooving to the tune of “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t cool.

I was bell bottom chic, colorful to say the least. Minnie skirts, jumpsuits, go-go boots, platform shoes, plaids and pen stripes were in vogue.

I was so happy to retire my snow boots, sweat shirts, and turtle necks during the summer. How sweet it was to be in sunny California!

When I arrived home from Central College in Pella, Iowa, I was ready to shake loose the corn huskers dust off my feet and take a break from milk white Iowa.

I had lived in cultural shock and was hungry for some soul food, flavor and familiar culture. It was only 42 blacks from the east coast and west coast, the south, and Midwest on a campus of 4,000 students.

I was an affirmative action recipient. Without it, I doubt I would have gone to Iowa for college.

My sister Peggy and her husband, Lorise (who we called Bud) hosted family gatherings regularly on the weekends during the summer. Friends were also invited.

We ate barbeque hot off the grill and golden fried chicken right out of the skillet with all the trimmings: potato salad, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, string beans, 7-Up cake, and occasionally homemade ice cream.

We played Bid Wiz, checkers, dominoes, listened to jazz and Motown jams, and entertained a lot of trash talking. Hot fun, family, friends, love and happiness were what we were all about.

My brother-in-law owned a motorcycle and loved biking. I overheard him talking to his friend, Marshall, he had invited to a Sunday barbeque about planning a biking trip to the Oakland Jazz Festival.

Marvin Gaye was the main attraction. I had never seen him perform live. My heart almost leaped out of my chest.

He was my idol: tall, handsome, gifted, sexy, a musical genius, songwriter, producer, played keyboards, drums and synthesizer and could croon with the best.

He made women drool over his sexy moves and could sing in any genre. I leaped at the opportunity to invite myself to go with them.

His album “What’s Going On” released in 1971 was not just music. His lyrics were conscientious, compassionate, and laced with concerns about the environment and war like.

His beautiful lyrics, “Mother, mother there’s too many of your crying, bother brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying, you know we’ve got to find a way to bring some lovin’ here today,.” rocked my world and stirred my soul.

With dogged determination, I convinced my brother-in and his friend Marshall to let me hitch a ride with them up to the Bay Area for the concert. It was to be held at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum.

“It’s going to be a long ride. I don’t know if you can handle it, but if you want to go it’s okay.”

“Really, are you sure? I can’t believe you said yes.” I was grateful for Bud’s approval.

My sister Peggy frowned on the idea. “You must be crazy. Better you than me. You’re out of your mind to ride that far.”

I ignored my sister’s comments. When Bud said okay, I had won half of the battle. I had a suspicion he thought I would back out at the last minute.

I got my mother’s approval also: “Child, a hard head makes a soft behind. You got to experience life for yourself. So, go ahead. Enjoy yourself. Be safe. I ‘ll just keep praying for you”.

I grabbed mother around the neck while she was sitting on the sofa watching her favorite soap opera in her paper thin, cotton duster and gave her a big kiss on her cheek. We both grinned at each other.

The concert was circa 1973, after Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On album had been released. The exact month or year it was, I don’t remember.


The Adventure

We left early morning, before the sun came up. I had packed all the essentials including my light green bell bottom slacks with a plaid, multicolored blouse that tied in the front to wear to the concert.

I wore my suede rust colored high-top boots, Levi jeans, a long sleeve pull over cotton top, and wrapped a wind breaker and thick sweatshirt around my waist.

I borrowed my sister’s white helmet and jumped on the back of a two-seater 750 Honda with Bud as the navigator.

The silver chrome, sleek, slender handle bars and pipes, the shining dark, metallic brown body contrasted with green and golden streaks gave the bike an aesthetic elegance.

Bud had recently purchased it. When he revved it up to get started, it roared like a lion. It purred gently as a kitten on the highway.

Bud and Marshall were serious, safe bikers. They loved taking long trips. Both were trustworthy, fun loving, Vietnam veterans, and good Louisiana down home guys.

I had taken short trips before, but never a round trip nearly 800 miles. They wore black leather gloves, helmets, and short leather jackets with black leather boots, Levi jeans, and short sleeve V neck tee shirts.

We took I-5 out of L.A. heading north. Early on, adventure was sweet as honey. We were zinging in the wind. The ride was long, but sitting for hours was arduous.

The early morning breeze made the trip tolerable, especially when we cropped between the mountains. When we hit the valley, the stench of some dead carcass along with the sound of locust and crickets was eerie and nauseating.

Navigating pass 18-wheel rigs and racing among the shadows of danger were daunting. We darted ahead with precision. There were rough and smooth, cooler and hotter spots along the journey.

The seat I rode on was elevated, a firm hump of leather. I kept my legs snugged comfortably with my feet resting on the foot rest.

I could hear the crashing, squashing sounds of insects on my helmet. We ran into swarms of them, but championed ahead.

We had few pitstops, only to relieve ourselves when nature called, to refuel, or stop for a snack and water. Our pace was on schedule.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on a Friday afternoon was the greatest challenge. The wind was so cold it felt like a million-darts stinging me.

I broke out in goosebumps, although I was layered with my windbreaker and sweat shirt. My nose turned as red as a beet and felt as frozen as a Popsicle.

I shivered out of control. My resolve weakened. My legs ached with pangs of pins and needles. I held on with adrenaline arching through my veins.

I could hear my heart pumping, racing in my ears. “Lord, help me get through this,” I prayed.

I held on to Bud for dear life. The wind was so strong no one could hear me, even if I screamed. There was so much traffic and cars zooming at such high speeds.

I closed my eyes. I’m sure I had a death grip on Bud, but it didn’t seem to faze him.


Our Arrival

We arrived at Geneva Towers where my sisters Jo and Mae lived in Daly City. It was good to be on solid ground safe among family.

When I got off the bike, I felt I had been riding bare back on a horse for a month. I walked as bad as John Wayne in a cowboy flick.

My behind felt like raw hide. “Dang”, I said to myself, “I’ve got to ride back home.” I acted cool with a grin masking my tears and pain.

My sisters greeted us with smiles, hugs, and open arms. We unpacked our things and I welcomed the warm, Epsom salt bath before we broke bread.

Jo provided us with a spread of her homemade Fettuccini seafood pasta, creamy coleslaw, steamed broccoli, and garlic bread. She said to me, “Girrl you got guts, more than I will ever have. Will I ride on a bike?”

With some attitude, her lips curled, one hand waving in the air and the other on her hip she said, “Hell to the no! We may be sisters, but I don’t have your guts.” We all laughed.

I braided my afro before sleep, so it would be big and puffy. I had a good night’s rest in a firm bed with fresh linen and slept like a baby.

The concert was Saturday night, the day after our arrival. I couldn’t wait. We left early to beat the traffic and arrived safely. The crowd overflowed into the stadium.

I was mesmerized. Marvin Gaye swooned and grooved with gritty, grinding, sexy moves. The crowd went wild when he sang, “Let’s Get It on.”

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Heads bobbed. Shoulders swayed. Hands clapped. I dreamed. His falsetto was dynamite. There was not a dull moment.

The quality of his voice was great. For sure, it was top-notch entertainment. It was worth a sore butt. The swell of the crowd ballooned even more when he sang “What’s Going On.”

Nancy Wilson also performed. She sounded like a songbird. Her voice was light, soft, and jazzy. She was fantastic.

An all-time great made a guest appearance. Ella Fitzgerald claimed the stage. Her voice was powerful, sharp, sassy, and classy.

Her performance was breathtaking. She pinned our ears to the stars, scatted up to heaven, owned the mic, and stole the crowd.

I will never forget those legendary greats and neither will I forget how badly my butt ached after returning home on that 750 Honda. One hell of a ride.

Dead Right

Have you ever heard the saying: “Pedestrians are always in the right. But they can be dead right?”

That statement has stuck in my brain for years. When I first began driving, that phrase helped me to be more observant of walkers. But through the years, especially in the last decade or so, I am haunted by its philosophy.

It’s as if almost every night at 6:00, there’s yet again, another hit and run victim on the news. I’m saddened beyond words. It has got to stop!

But how? While street racing and drunk driving prevails, perhaps we need to approach this hit and run epidemic from another angle…the pedestrian, who is legally in the right, but sadly, often dead right.

Many pedestrians have a false sense of protection while in the perimeters of a crosswalk. Perhaps that statement ‘the pedestrian is always in the right’ has given us that false sense of security.

As a pedestrian, I may be in the right legally, but am I always safe? That’s the question. If I am thinking while in the middle of a crosswalk that I am completely safe and have no need to think about anything…then there’s always a chance for something bad to happen.

Walking within the boundaries of a crosswalk does not guarantee any kind of security. It’s all blind faith; believing that every car will stop for me, believing every driver will see me. Yet that’s how most of us go through life; with blind faith.

There are many distractions for the driver; cell phones being the latest. Not all drivers follow the rules of the road and drunk drivers still travel on our roads.

Knowing that a car or truck can weigh well over 3,000 pounds easily convinces me not to take unnecessary chances. And that’s it. When we decide to walk across the street where heavy vehicles travel, we are ultimately taking a chance with our lives.

Hit and run acts are atrocious and unpredictable, but perhaps there are things that we, as pedestrians, can do to protect ourselves. And protect ourselves, we must.

We must become our own advocate. When we step off the pavement, we must abandon the blind faith that once taught us we were safe because we were in a crosswalk, that all vehicles will stop for us, that all drivers will see us, that all drivers will care.

Also, just because the oncoming car looks as if he is coming to a halt, we should never proceed into the crosswalk unless we see the eyes of the driver and the driver sees us. We also should not proceed across the street till we can see the whites of their eyes. Good advice, but not the only advice.

Our job is not to smell the roses while we are maneuvering to the other side; our ultimate goal is to safely reach the other side. Period. No playing around while in the crosswalk. Then go to the gardens later and smell the lilacs and lavenders.

It goes without saying that we must always look way down the road for approaching vehicles and be ready to retreat or go forward quickly. But all the while? Never stop watching in the direction of oncoming cars!

It is also our job to teach these things to our children as well. They too, must become their own advocate. The other day I was waiting to make a left turn in a residential area. All of a sudden three high school girls come out of nowhere, crossing in front of me. Not one of them looked to see if I had seen them and not one of them took their cell phone away from their face while crossing the street in front of me. That had the potential for disaster. Thank God it ended well. But I wanted to follow the girls and tell them a few things about advocacy.

My new phrase for the 21st century is not just to look both ways, but to also be your own advocate. Stay alive!

Kathy (Kacie) Cooper is a member of the writing class at Norwalk Senior Center.

My Little Runaway

Many family members were jam-packed in our small, upstairs apartment to celebrate Mark’s fourth birthday.

The adults were enjoying each other’s company and the toddlers, conversing about the latest family happenings, and having a bite to eat, of course.

When it came time for Mark to blow out the candles on the cake, suddenly, someone asked: “Where’s Mark?” He was nowhere to be found in the apartment, so panic set in, and we all went our separate ways looking for him. Out on the sidewalk, some went east, some went west, while others stayed and searched in the front and back yards. With our searching in every direction, and still no sign of Mark, my panic was raging.

Thankfully, not too long afterward, someone shouted “Here he is.” He was in the yard all along…asleep under the giant elephant ear plant. My little man had had a busy day while scaring the stuffing out of the family!

Years later, when he was about eight, he was upset with me and told me that he was running away. Well, I said: “You haven’t eaten dinner yet so wait a few minutes, and I’ll fix you something to eat to take along.” I packed a few things he liked, tied it all up in a hobo style bandana, and tied it to a stick.

Off the little brat went down the street. My heart was pounding as I watched him turn right at the street corner and walk out of sight. I kept looking out the window hoping to get sight of him, and about twenty minutes later, there he was sitting on the curb in front of our home.

I guess he figured home wasn’t such a bad place after all, and his runaway days were over.

Sharon Benson Smith is a member of the writing class at Norwalk Senior Center.

New Year's lessons

I have learned friendship can fill the void when family bring disappointments.

I have learned grandchildren are God’s gift of a second chance.

I have learned change is necessary to grow in knowledge.

I have learned from the terrorist event of September eleventh 2001, violent climate change and countless mass shootings that tomorrow is not a given.

I have learned from my husband, true love is unconditional.

I have learned from my cat, it is okay to nap in the middle of the day.

I have learned from my homemaking tasks, I have no excuse to be bored.

I have learned from my addiction to chocolate that some things are out of my control.

I have learned through my writing, I have something to say.

I have learned from Bonnie Mansell’s Memoir Group that our stories are our legacy.

These are the life-lessons I will carry in to the New Year with its new adventures and challenges.

Yolanda Adele is a member of the writing class at Norwalk Senior Center.

Mom's Fur Coat

Dad and mom belonged to a lodge called the Knights of Pythias. Dad was a Knight and mom was a Pythian Sister.

They attended frequent Lodge meetings. They also went to dinner dances and, quite often, mom bought a new dress.

The holiday gala was the main event of the year, and dad surprised mom with a fur coat for the special occasion. We were so proud of dad’s generosity and even happier for mom. The coat was lovely and we all gathered around

mom telling her how pretty she looked. The next day, she told us all about the evening and what a great time they had, and gave us each one of the favors.

Wintertime was fast approaching, and we three girls were huddled together in our bed in the living room where a tarpaulin served as the east side of the house during dad’s do-it-yourself-remodel. We had plenty of blankets on top

of us, but that still didn’t keep out the winter cold.

Along came mom, saving the day, as usual. She laid her fur coat atop the blankets and off to dreamland we went. I should say off the dreamland “they” went, as Phyllis would grind her teeth and Donna would pee the bed and I would struggle to fall asleep until the sandman was at last successful.

Dad came home from his semi-truckin’ in the middle of the night. He checked on us and how the tarpaulin was doing. Seeing the fur coat must have given him a “case of the vapors,” but that wasn’t the last time mom covered her

girls with her fine fur coat. As a matter of fact, over time, strips of fur began to disappear until it was torn and tattered.

Years later, our hearts would be torn and tattered when she had to leave us.

Sharon Smith is a member of the writing class at Norwalk Senior Center.